June 2021: Shirley Ann Grau

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June 2021: Shirley Ann Grau

Abr 14, 4:35pm

In June 2021, we will be discussing Shirley Ann Grau, an American author usually associated with the Deep South.

None of her books made the 1001 lists but she got a Pulitzer for her 3rd novel The Keepers of the House, published in 1964

Her other novels:

The Hard Blue Sky (1958)
The House on Coliseum Street (1961)
The Condor Passes (1971)
Evidence of Love (1977)
Roadwalkers (1994)

Her collections:

The Black Prince, and Other Stories (1955)
The Wind Shifting West (1973)
Nine Women (1986)
Selected Stories (2006)

What do you plan to read?

Abr 14, 4:52pm

Sadly, I've never heard of her, but just bought a copy of The Keepers of the House so I will join in.

Abr 16, 6:33pm

I'm leaning towards The Condor Passes.

Abr 16, 7:01pm

I read The Keepers of the House in January and really liked it- and wanted to read more. I have ordered Roadwalkers and The House on Coliseum Street and will start with whichever attracts me most. Or arrives first.

Maio 23, 5:46pm

I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things here and have put The Keepers of the House on hold from the library as well.

Maio 23, 10:19pm

I have the The Condor Passes out from the library. I will not start it until sometime in June.

Jun 3, 10:31am

I did read The House on Coliseum Street when it arrived in April. I found it a very satisfying novel (4-5*), but it will not be to everyone’s taste. The main character is depressed from the beginning, and she deteriorates during the novel, as she deals with sexual exploitation, abortion, loss, and a profound sense of isolation—all themes as relevant today as in the 1950’s.

I’m now reading Nine Women, a collection of short stories, each of which focusses on a different female protagonist. I’ve read about 5 stories so far and like them all, though of course I have my favorites.

Jun 3, 3:33pm

Again, a completely new author for me, so my thanks for this nomination! I too plan to read her Pulitzer winner, The Keeper of the House. Currently waiting to receive my copy via interlibrary loan.

Interesting to note that here on LT, the recommendations for me on the work page include Alison Lurie's Foreign Affairs from last month in this group!

Jun 11, 8:24am

Never heard of this author before either. How is everyone enjoying her works so far?

Jun 11, 8:53pm

Hi everyone - I'm new to the group. I hadn't heard of Shirley Ann Grau either. Her books are a challenge to find in my library system here in Queensland but I am going to try for an inter-library loan for The Keepers of the House. I have been able to obtain The Black Prince electronically so will let you know how I go with that although I confess I don't tend to read books on my desktop/tablet. I love Virago Modern Classics and am surprised/interested that Grau doesn't appear among their authors. She seems to be a good candidate to me. This is quite a good article and has a video of her speaking if you are interested. https://deepsouthmag.com/2013/10/31/the-undramatic-life-of-shirley-ann-grau/

Jun 12, 4:03am

Ooh - great news! I have managed to snag an e-version of The Keepers of the House from the Gold Coast Library service. Yay!

Editado: Jun 12, 10:58am

>11 alexdaw: Welcome to the group! I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of Keepers. And thanks so much for the link, I enjoyed reading the article.

Jun 14, 9:48pm

>10 alexdaw: Hi, great to have you on hear sharing your book thoughts!

Not much by Shirley Ann Grau is available from my library either unfortunately. I did see she is a contributor to a book of short stories called New Orleans Noir.

Thanks for sharing the article. She sounded like such an interesting person. I found it odd that the article's author kept saying Grau's life wasn't dramatic when she won a Pulitzer, faced pushback from the Klan(!) and others, etc. That seems like a lot!

Jun 15, 7:08am

>13 sweetiegherkin: I found most of her books on Hoopla—a great resource if your library offers it. Good luck with the search.

Editado: Jun 16, 7:39am

In her introductory comments to the first edition of Nine Women: Short stories, Shirley Ann Grau writes that “ a short story is not just a small novel....A novel tries to give the reader a sense of inhabiting an imaginary world, a sense of being there. A short story attempts to give a brief illuminating glance into a world and to portray that world so vividly that one glance is enough.” Each story in this collection, which I finished a few days ago, is about a woman facing a turning point in her own particular world. The women differ from one another in race, economic circumstances, and background, but each story succeeds beautifully at providing a vivid look into the main character and her world. And I very much enjoyed spending even so short a time with each one. Though published in 1985, this collection is certainly relevant; it deals with the timeless themes of love and loss and coping with life’s major transitions.

My favorite story is “Home”—a story of a lesbian couple, Angela and Vicky, whose crisis occurs when Vicky wants to have a child. Grau is a master at developing character with a few telling details. We first see Angela, a very successful real estate broker, in her office at the end of a busy day: “She tossed a half pack of cigarettes into the wastebasket; she would take a fresh one tomorrow morning....She’d discovered that no matter how annoying or stupid a client was, how devious, uncertain, and utterly exhausting, she needed only to light a cigarette slowly, slowly, and after the first puff consider the burning tip as if it were the most interesting thing in the world—her annoyance would vanish, her calm return....In all this time...she’d never grown to like tobacco.” And when Angela picks her up at the end of the day, we get our first glimpse of Vicky, the owner of a trendy and successful dress shop: “Angela brought the car to a stop. Vicky, small, trim, dark, wearing a lavender dress, slipped quickly inside. Bal a Versailles filled the car.” A trashed half pack of cigarettes, an overwhelming odor of perfume at the end of the workday, and we begin to understand something of each character.

Another story, “Letting Go,” is an example of Grau’s deft use of imagery to set the scene and build up atmosphere. The story begins: “Except for a couple of cruising sea gulls, the entire north shore of the bay was empty and still—the tumbled concrete blocks of the erosion barriers, the wide mud flats, ripple-covered now by high tide. Far offshore, a mile or so, the silver gray water darkened into the slate gray of the deep buoy-marked ship channel where oil tankers passed in slow procession against an always hazy horizon.” This bleak, gray landscape prepares us for two of the story’s characters, whose bleak, rigid, monotonous life fits seamlessly into their barren surroundings. They are the parents of the main character, Mary Margaret, and their suffocating tendencies can already be guessed at.

Each of the stories demonstrated that Shirley Ann Grau is a fine writer. I have loved everything I have read of hers—two novels and this collection. I plan to read more, though probably not this month. I’m sorry it’s not easier to find a selection of her works on library shelves, in my opinion she deserves a wider audience.

Jun 16, 2:26pm

I finished The Condor Passes a family saga following a New Orleans family in the early 1900s through the 1960s. The book focuses on the male head of the family and his two daughters and their husbands and children. The other person we get a perspective from is the family’s Black butler.

The story is told in different sections that each focus on a family member or the butler. They vary in their time periods. So there is not a narrative flow from section to section always or much of a plot.

I really did not enjoy reading this and at over 400 pages I struggled to finish. I am wondering if The House on Coliseum Street or The Keepers of the House would have been more to my taste. Shirley Ann Grau definitely liked writing about houses since that’s a titular feature of two of her books and remodeling houses, buying houses, and describing houses is also a lot of The Condor Passes.

Jun 16, 2:31pm

>16 Tara1Reads: I feel a little better about my own response now that you've posted this. I tried The Keepers of the House and just could not get into it. The first chapter or so focused on one person, and then there was a section on her grandfather, William, and I... didn't get much further before I decided I was bored and just didn't care. I think it was supposed to go through a few generations, but I did not find it compelling enough to finish.

Jun 16, 6:21pm

>17 bell7: It sounds like The Keepers of the House and The Condor Passes are similar in terms of sections focusing on different characters. That style works for some books, but I didn’t think it worked for The Condor Passes. The characters are all people I was having a hard time understanding and connecting with. Switching perspectives and having some sections much longer and more in depth on some characters more than others did not help me to understand the characters and their motivations. I didn’t like the characters and *really* did not understand why they did the things they did. I think format of the book hindered some of my understanding and sympathizing with the characters.

Jun 17, 2:10pm

>14 dianelouise100: My library does have Hoopla so I'll double-check there. Thanks for the tip!

Jun 17, 2:13pm

>15 dianelouise100: Wow, what a lovely definition of what a short story is! I find that I don't necessarily love short stories as a genre, but there are certainly authors who do it better than others. Perhaps understanding that they are not writing a mini novel helps....

Jun 17, 2:13pm

>16 Tara1Reads:, >17 bell7: That's unfortunate that neither of you enjoyed your reads this month. Every book its reader.

Jun 17, 2:44pm

Every book its reader.

I agree! Another month, an author will work for me and not someone else and that's okay.

Editado: Jun 17, 3:35pm

>20 sweetiegherkin: I’m not that big on short stories either but her comment let me look at the stories in terms of what she was trying to do. Helpful!

Jun 19, 8:25pm

>22 bell7: Precisely :)

>23 dianelouise100: that's great ... it's always good to have another / a new perspective whenever possible.

Jun 22, 8:25pm

>15 dianelouise100: Thank you for sharing those passages! Much like sweetie gherkin I am typically not a big short story fan, but this made me want to wade in.

I meanwhile have been reading The Keepers of the House. Much like others in this thread, I tend not to prefer novels with multiple alternating narrators. I find it harder to get immersed in the story, and this is true for Keepers of the House. However, Grau is a wonderful writer. I've been taken several times with sentences or paragraphs that are simply stunningly written.

Jun 22, 8:28pm

I also meant to share that Grau just passed away last year. Here is her obituary: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/08/books/shirley-ann-grau-dead.html

Jun 23, 9:59pm

I picked up The Keepers of the House from my library seeing as many here are reading it / have read it.

>26 sparemethecensor: Thanks, but unfortunately I couldn't access the article (not a NYT subscriber).

Jun 23, 11:04pm

>26 sparemethecensor: Appreciate the link to obit., I enjoyed it.

Jul 2, 7:39pm

In the heat of the civil rights struggle, the Ku Klux Klan tried to intimidate Shirley Ann Grau, a white Southerner who had written about interracial marriage, by burning a cross on her front lawn.

But they forgot to bring a proper shovel. Unable to plant the cross upright in the hard ground, they laid it down instead, and the flames soon sputtered out.

As it happened, Ms. Grau (rhymes with prow) wasn’t even home. And on hearing of the incident, she was more amused than distraught.

“It scorched a few feet of grass and it scared the neighbors,” she told The Associated Press in 2003. “It all had kind of a Groucho Marx ending to it.”

Her response typified her unflappable nature. “She didn’t hesitate to tackle controversial subjects, and she certainly wasn’t going to be intimidated by the Klan,” her daughter Katherine F. Miner said in an interview.

Ms. Grau died on Monday at an assisted-living facility in Kenner, La., a suburb of New Orleans. She was 91. Ms. Miner said the cause was complications of a stroke.

The object of the Klan’s ire back in 1965 was Ms. Grau’s novel “The Keepers of the House,” the story of a wealthy white widower and his 30-year relationship with his Black housekeeper, whom he secretly marries and with whom he has three children.

Most of Ms. Grau’s six novels and four story collections explored themes of race, power, class and love. They were deeply atmospheric, lyrical tales, most of them set in the Deep South, in worlds unto themselves.

“Shirley Ann Grau writes of our most sublimated and shameful prejudices, about how miscegenation infiltrates every level of society, and about how racial harmony is a pretense that integration alone is unable to address,” Alison Bertolini, the author of “Vigilante Women in Contemporary American Fiction” (2011), told Deep South Magazine in 2013.

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Continue reading the main story
“The Keepers of the House” was the best known of Ms. Grau’s brooding sagas.

ImageMs. Grau won a Pulitzer Prize in 1965 for her novel “The Keepers of The House,” the story of an interracial relationship.
Ms. Grau won a Pulitzer Prize in 1965 for her novel “The Keepers of The House,” the story of an interracial relationship.
“The sounds and smells and folkways of the Deep South are conjured up and the onerous burden of the South’s heritage of violence and of racial neurosis is dramatized in the lives of a few unhappy people,” Orville Prescott wrote in a review in The New York Times.

“It is all an old and familiar story,” he added, “but seldom has it been told so well.”

Many agreed. “The Keepers of the House” won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

That was the last thing Ms. Grau expected. When the Pulitzer representative called to tell her she had won, she thought a friend was pulling a prank.

“Yeah, and I’m the queen of England,” she replied, and hung up.

Ms. Grau was pleased, of course, but not overly impressed with herself. She hung the award inconspicuously over the closet in her study, where few would see it.

Along with attacks from the Klan, her work drew threatening phone calls from white supremacists. She took those calls in stride, undaunted, partly because she knew she could defend herself — she had spent time in her youth hunting rabbits and squirrels with a .22-caliber rifle in Alabama.

“I remind the people,” she told The A.P. of those callers, “that I’m probably a better shot than they are.”

Shirley Ann Grau was born on July 8, 1929, in New Orleans. Her father, Adolph Eugene Grau, was a dentist, and her mother, Katherine (Onions) Grau, was a homemaker.

She grew up in New Orleans and spent part of her childhood in Montgomery, Ala. She attended Newcomb College, the women’s affiliate of Tulane University, where she majored in English and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1950.

She pursued graduate studies in literature at Tulane with the goal of teaching and writing. But, she told Deep South, when the English department chairman said he wouldn’t hire women as teaching assistants, she dropped out before earning a higher degree.

It was about that time that her short stories started to sell — to The New Yorker, Redbook, The Saturday Evening Post, Vogue, Southern Review and Cosmopolitan, among other magazines.

She married James Kern Feibleman, a philosophy professor at Tulane, in 1955. He died in 1987. In addition to Ms. Miner, Ms. Grau is survived by another daughter, Nora F. McAlister; two sons, Ian J. and William L. Feibleman; and six grandchildren.

Ms. Grau in 1969 with her husband, James K. Feibleman, and their children, from left, Nora, William, Katherine and Ian.
Ms. Grau in 1969 with her husband, James K. Feibleman, and their children, from left, Nora, William, Katherine and Ian.Credit...via Katherine Miner
Ms. Grau’s first collection, “The Black Prince and Other Stories” (1955), was a finalist for a National Book Award. Time magazine called it “the most impressive U.S. short story debut between hard covers since J.D. Salinger’s ‘Nine Stories.’”

Her story collections — the others were “The Wind Shifting West” (1973), “Nine Women” (1985) and “Selected Stories” (2003) — generally received more favorable reviews than her novels, though Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post, among other critics, had a fondness for her novel “The House on Coliseum Street” (1961), about a young woman who has an abortion after an affair with a professor.

If some faulted her novels for not presenting an overarching vision or unifying theme, others said that that was not her goal.

“She had no agenda,” her friend Maurice duQuesnay, an associate professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said in an email. Her interest, he said, was human nature and in creating a sense of place.

She had told him, he recalled, that she viewed life as “a muddle” and that she wanted to show characters struggling to free themselves from the past and forging their own identities.

Ms. Grau put it this way, when discussing “The Keepers of the House” with The New York Post in 1965: “Somewhere in the book I try to say that no person in the rural South is really an individual. He or she is a composite of himself and his past. The Southerner has been bred with so many memories that it’s almost as if memory outreaches life.”

Jul 2, 7:40pm

>27 sweetiegherkin: Sorry it took me a minute -- I had to get back onto my laptop not my phone.

In particular I found this quote from Grau thought-provoking:
Ms. Grau put it this way, when discussing “The Keepers of the House” with The New York Post in 1965: “Somewhere in the book I try to say that no person in the rural South is really an individual. He or she is a composite of himself and his past. The Southerner has been bred with so many memories that it’s almost as if memory outreaches life.”

Ontem, 7:57pm

>30 sparemethecensor: She sounds like quite the woman! I am enjoying Keepers of the House even if I am reading it slowly.